By TITO S. TALAO
James Yap, the San Mig Super Coffee star, probably thought the question was leading to something else.
Asked during the post-game interview Wednesday – after the Mixers had completed the Grand Slam by beating Rain or Shine in Game 5 of the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals, 92-89, and Yap had wrapped his huge hands around the PBA Press Corps Finals MVP plaque – whether his two missed free throws in the closing seconds
were due to fatigue, Yap bristled.
“Eto yung series na ang hirap i-close. May mga crucial misses ako pero sino ba ang gustong magmiss. Basta ang alam ko tinira ko ng maayos. Kung mag-miss man, wala akong pakialam,” said Yap, who finished with a game-high 29 points (9 in the fourth quarter) with eight rebounds and an assist in 38 minutes.
Except for Marqus Blakely (42 minutes) and Joe Devance (39), no other San Mig player criss-crossed the battlefield longer than Yap, who went 9 of 12 in two-pointers and 3 of 6 from beyond the rainbow, his third giving the Mixers a 78-72 lead with nine minutes left.
“Talagang ibinuhos ko nang lahat,” he said.
Yap could have been assured his overall performance in the finals had rendered those missed foul shots irrelevant, especially after Mark Barroca clanged two himself with six seconds remaining, leaving Rain or Shine with one last crack at sending the winner-take-all into overtime.
(The Elasto Painters fell a few inches short on Arizona Reid’s three-point attempt.)
Proof of its inconsequence was the overwhelming unanimity in the choice of Finals MVP. Unlike in the Commissioner’s Cup when the voters debated long and hard the merits of Barroca and Yap before going for the former University of the East hotshot, it was Big Game James hands down this time.
“Sobrang blessed,” Yap said. “But more than the individual award, mas thankful ako sa achievement na nakuha ng team namin. Imagine, first Grand Slam in 18 years.” Yap was right to put the two awards in perspective.
Having undergone personal turmoil in the past and a more recent physical challenge in the form of persistent swelling in the elbow of his shooting hand, Yap overcame both through sheer will and faith.
“Thank you, Lord,” said Yap, who dedicated his Finals MVP award to Italian girlfriend, Michella Cazzola, and to his seven-yearold son, Bimby, with former wife, actress and TV host Kris Aquino.
His bosom buddy Marc Pingris offered testimony on Yap’s resolve.
“Nagkaroon siya ng injury sa braso. Ang pangit ng nilalaro niya noon. Sobrang down siya,” Pingris told InterAksyon.com.
“Pero everyday, kahit may injury noon si James, tuloy-tuloy pa rin ensayo niya. Ang sabi ko sa kanya, ‘darating rin yung laro mo. Darating rin ulit yung time mo.’”
That time came in the final 12 minutes of Game 5 when San Mig’s Grand Slam bid fell under heavy firepower by Rain or Shine, a 13-point cushion whittled down to a point.
Yap had five of the Mixers’ next six points and the threat passed as surely as Yap’s stroke from 3-point range coming from a hand-off.
“James comes through more than anybody else. That’s what makes him special, the ability not to get too high or too low,” Cone told Spin.ph. “I had a little bit of experience in Jojo Lastimosa in his career, but James is on another level.
“Nothing fazes him and that makes him special, that’s why he steps up in big games. He plays at a level of calmness that I have never seen in a player before. The calmness he exudes, I think, really takes him over the top.
And that’s where James Yap is right now, and that’s where he’ll stay for a couple more seasons – painful elbow and occasional missed free throws notwithstanding.